Someone said the first thing you have to do before you solve a problem is to acknowledge it.
This post is all about it.
In our Preventive Medicine class, we’ve been tasked to do reports on issues bugging the world nowadays, and one of them was domestic abuse and violence. It involved physical, mental, psychological, economical and sexual abuse, and mostly revolved around women. Abuse in men does occur, but only negligibly. Women are simply more prone to being abused.
I don’t normally like statistics and they never stick to my head, but I did remember one – 1.5 million women, 15-49 years old, are or have been victims of abuse. And those are only the reported cases. I’ve been very ignorant about this subject matter because I’m not a victim (or so I thought), or I don’t know anyone close who has been one. It wasn’t a huge issue in the university I went to, but it is a huge one to other universities, even the one my best friend since I was in grade school went to. I was shocked to realize how rampant this was, at the same time ultimately curious as to why it occurs and what pushes the abuser to do such things.
A girl was invited to talk about her experience, since seeing a face made it more personal, according to our doctor-professor. She was sexually and violently abused when she was 16. It started out like normal relationships – sweet at the start – until it gradually got nasty. She ended up being hospitalized at one point, maybe losing a child. She was kept at the guy’s home for weeks or months at a time, and she would merely let him to anything he wanted to her because it came to a point when she stopped trying to resist. She felt like a nothing, she lost herself, until one day, she snapped out of it and just ran away. The most disappointing thing was that the boy’s mom even tried to stop her. Plot twist of the day: she was the daughter of our professor.
Two of my other classmates shared. One of them was a guy, and his mom was physically and sexually abused by his almost step-father. That went on for around six years. Another one of my classmates, a girl this time, someone I didn’t expect would have something to share, was in an abusive relationship similar to the first girl’s.
It was a heavy topic to listen to. Questions started popping up in my head – how do you know when, who or how to trust? How do you know if someone can actually do that to you? It all seems sweet from the start, how would you know if you’d end up like that? When will you be able to call it abuse?
One more thing: physical abuse is a good indicator that the relationship is not working out. No one deserves to be hit like a non-human. No animal deserves to be physically abused anyway. But how do you know it’s abuse when there’s no physical or sexual abuse going on? It’s trickier on that part.
Apparently, some of the most common things are that the abuser usually has a dark past, usually a horrible family issue, and that it’s a cycle that never stops. Person abuses, the victim defends the abuser, abuser says he’s doing it simply because he loves her. The victim will feel helpless, until she stops trying to resist.
That means my dad’s been constantly abusing my mom. Maybe not physical. I wouldn’t know anyway. How would I? Besides, he won’t be able to do anything now but to mentally abuse us because he’s very ill. My dad was an alcoholic. He used to go home at five in the morning. My mom would stay up all night worrying about him. I wouldn’t know what was going on. We were asleep. Some nights I do stay up worrying, too. My dad associated with people of that kind. People who justified that substance abuse (alcohol) was an essential part of work, without admitting that he needed to quit. The money he earned was not exactly legal money. We lived a pretty comfortable life back then. And then he had cancer, thanks to all the drinking. It was all his fault in the end.
My dad forced my mom to quit work when they got married. My mom wouldn’t be allowed to see her friends because my dad would tell her she was shifting her priorities to her friends instead of us, the kids. He banned her from going to her church. He made all financial decisions and reprimanded her whenever she tried to make suggestions. He would buy different fancy things for himself, it would all accumulate, but when my brother or I asked for things, he’d justify how we wouldn’t need it. He never listened to stories, and he’d find something to scold you about if you ever tried telling him something. Going to prom was almost prohibited (if not for the magic of my grandmother) because it was like getting married, according to him. He vented out on us when mom would make him stop eating unhealthy food for his own sake. My mom was always wrong. He was always right. My mom’s life had always been about him. Now our lives are all about him. It’s always been about him.
My brother has always had clinical depression, even though life was more comfortable back then. He used to take medication for it. Now, it all just got worse. He never goes out of his room anymore. His only friends are his two computers. He has multiple fresh slashes on his limbs. He has multiple bottles of alcohol in his room. His meals consist of chips or instant noodles. And still. Still. My father blames it all on him. It was all my brother’s fault, according to him. He doesn’t have the right to be clinically depressed, he doesn’t have cancer, according to him. If anyone should be affected, it should be my dad. Him. Him, again.
As for me, I don’t know where I fit into the situation. Someone always has to be in the middle. My dad said I’m the only thing in the world he’s proud of. Get it? I’m not a thing. I’m not his possession. I’m not his trophy. He thinks I am where I am now (currently in med school) all because of him. Financially, he’s right, which is why I chose to enroll myself in a med school with generous scholarships. But I will be lying if I say this hasn’t affected me at all. I just manage to dodge getting yelled at because I’m good at not making trouble. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know you’ve been disappointing him until he’s yelled insults at you, attacking the very core of your person and you’re left screaming all to yourself in your room, wondering when all this will end. I’ve always been the good kid, but I’ve also always wanted to get away from here, which is probably why I always have this need of escaping. I can never stick to one place for a long time. I always feel the need to run away. Moreover, I can’t retain information anymore, and it’s a struggle to go to med school with all this baggage. I feel like it’s because I want to forget everything that’s happening to me, that my brain doesn’t know how to filter my family troubles and to retain info like mechanisms of how the body maintains arterial pressure.
If that’s not psychological and mental abuse, I don’t know what is.
That landed him with esophageal cancer. That landed us with no money. That landed me with having to work for my own allowance. That landed my mom being forced to sell properties my grandma gave her. All because of his selfishness. When I see him lying down in the hospital bed, a bunch of tubes plugged onto his hand, his frail body, I couldn’t help but think back to how he lived. He drank a lot. He went out. He had the time of his life. He ate anything he wanted. He probably dated anyone he wanted, which is why he wouldn’t tell me or my mom about his past. He wouldn’t tell us, most probably because it was nothing to be proud of. We’re all suffering the consequences because of it. I’m forced to be ashamed of things people normally enjoy in life, because all he did with it when he had the chance was to exploit it.
My question is, is physical abuse the justifiable ticket to get out of this situation? The fact that he’s my father makes it a lot harder. I know what it’s like to feel like a nothing. I know what it’s like, because most of the time, I think non-existence is better than suicide. Is physical abuse the gravest out of all the acts of abuse? It can’t be, because humans are not only made of physical matter.
Our Christian faith has definitely played a huge role in this. It made my mom truly love my father for who he is. Mom being Christ-like has constantly helped her live. After all, Christ loved the worst of sinners. My kind, sweet, vulnerable mom never deserved this. She didn’t deserve him. But she stayed. I wouldn’t be able to give anyone a full grasp of the story. It’s an accumulating cycle, it hasn’t ended yet. I’m just not sure I will be able to give that same kind of love to anyone. That selfless, unconditional act. I’m also not sure I will be able to trust anyone fully. Most of all, I’m not sure if I will be smart enough to not be deluded by what I think are happy endings, because:
“Every time you
tell your daughter
you yell at her
out of love
you teach her to confuse
anger with kindness
which seems like a good idea
till she grows up to
trust men who hurt her
cause they look so much
—To fathers with daughters, Rupi Kaur